Pregnancy food tips and essential nutrients
Pregnancy requires particular attention to the intake of certain nutrients for the proper development of the baby during life in utero, but also for the well-being and health of the future mother . In this sense, from the beginning of pregnancy, good habits must be adopted. When possible, it is even desirable to make certain changes as soon as you want to conceive a child. Indeed, our modern diet unfortunately creates a risk of deficiency in nutrients that are essential to the "production" of a healthy baby. Why do some turn out to be of crucial importance? When to consider supplementation? Here are some keys to answering these questions and offering dietary advice allowing the supply of essential nutrients for the smooth running of pregnancy.
Fight against deficiencies
Significantly increased basic needs
Pregnancy is a period during which nutritional needs are greatly increased . From the first trimester of pregnancy, the body stores the nutrients necessary for the development of the baby. If these reserves are insufficient, they quickly run out. However, it appears that many women are deficient even before becoming pregnant.
These increased needs concern macronutrients (proteins, lipids, carbohydrates) but also vitamins (especially vitamins A, B1, B6, B9, B12, C and D) and minerals (especially iron, iodine and calcium) ( 1) .
Folic acid: essential for preventing the risk of malformations
Folic acid is the best known of the supplements recommended for women during the preconception period. Also called vitamin B9, it is a B group vitamin essential for the growth and development of the baby in utero. Many studies have shown that folic acid helps reduce, in particular, the risk of neural tube defects during pregnancy. Other problems can also be prevented thanks to an adequate intake of folic acid: congenital heart disease (2) , reduced risk of premature delivery (3) and anemia in the mother (4) .
Although folic acid is found in the diet, the sources are not sufficient to provide the required intake to protect against deficiency-related malformations. The recommended dose is currently 400 μg/day (5) .
In case of pregnancy desire, it is strongly advised to take this supplement at least three months before getting pregnant .
Iron: almost always insufficient during pregnancy
Iron deficiency is almost systematic in pregnant women (6) . We speak of iron deficiency anemia, that is to say, due to a lack of iron. During pregnancy, blood volume increases, as do oxygen requirements. However, the latter attaches itself to the iron in the hemoglobin to be transported.
Iron has a facilitated absorption with vitamin C. It is therefore interesting to consume citrus fruits which are full of it.
Perhaps it should be remembered that iron deficiency exposes you to fatigue and irritability. However, pregnancy represents a period when these 2 manifestations can already be expressed for various reasons.
Omega-3s: pillars of cell structure
Omega-3s, which you are certainly hearing a lot about lately, are polyunsaturated fatty acids called "good fats". Omega-3s are special fatty acids, since they cannot be synthesized by the human body . They must therefore come from food. However, our current basic diet is too often lacking in it.
We generally consume far more and far too many so-called saturated fatty acids or even trans fatty acids that have undergone transformations in the food industry. Alpha-linolenic acid is the leader in this category of fatty acids, but there are of course others such as EPA and DHA.
For the baby
Omega-3s have a protective antioxidant effect and contribute in particular to the proper structuring of cell membranes. It is therefore logical that you can imagine how important they can be in embryogenesis, that is to say this whole period of “construction” of the fetus and in particular that of its brain . In the last trimester of pregnancy, for example, the volume of the brain increases by 3 to 5 times.
Neurological development is exponential from the 3rd week of pregnancy. The formation and establishment of the billions of neurons that make up the nervous system is greedy in omega-3. In addition, the latter contribute to the transport of glucose to the brain.
The cells of the retina also require a very important participation of omega-3 to promote the proper establishment of the sight of the future infant.
For the mom
A good intake of omega-3 in the mother would more readily protect against the famous "baby blues" after childbirth. A meta-analysis (7) , that is to say an analysis of studies that have focused on the subject, showed in 2020 that omega-3 supplementation is proving to be a promising complementary contribution to the prevention of post-depression . -partum . Even if even more substantiated scientific studies must be carried out in this direction, omega-3s surely have a protective role . They would also have an influence on the release of serotonin, a hormone linked to our mood.
Focus on the good habits and clean up the bad ones!
Foods to favor
Vitamins and minerals
Thus, it is an opportunity to stock up on fruits and vegetables , rich in fiber, minerals and vitamins, in particular the famous vitamin B9 (folic acid). This is the case with watercress, lettuce, leeks and spinach. Walnuts, chickpeas, chestnuts or brewer's yeast flakes are also excellent sources.
The consumption of fish rich in omega-3 should be promoted, favoring small fatty fish such as sardines, mackerel, herring. Indeed, large fish such as salmon or tuna have the bad reputation of being more loaded with heavy metals and pollutants which must be preserved during pregnancy. They should therefore be consumed in greater moderation (no more than twice a week). Rapeseed oil contains a good proportion of omega-3s but it must be chosen organic and first cold pressed so that it retains its nutritional qualities as much as possible. Nuts are also high in omega-3s.
Sources of iron of animal origin are found in red meat, black pudding, calf's liver. Regarding plant sources, they will mainly be found in legumes (peas, lentils, etc.), algae, cocoa, but also oilseeds.
A suitable dietary supplement
It is also possible to use a complete food supplement adapted to the situation of pregnancy and its particular needs in certain nutrients.
Vigilance must of course be focused on a healthy and balanced diet as a priority, but supplementation needs may be indicated in some women to avoid the risk of complications that certain deficiencies can cause.
Alcohol and tobacco prohibited
Without moralizing vocation, the message is clear: tobacco is the enemy of the good development of your baby. This pregnancy must become the number 1 motivation to consider smoking cessation with support because obviously, it is not an easy process. The same goes for alcohol consumption which should be zero during this important period for the fetus.
Giving up certain foods
The first trimester of pregnancy is crucial. It is during this period that the vital organs are formed. At this stage millions of cell divisions are constantly taking place. Brain, digestive system, sensory organs, circulatory system… are all primordial constituents conditioned by the entire complex embryonic mechanism.
It is also during this period that particular attention should be paid to foods at risk of contamination by toxoplasmosis and listeriosis . These 2 infections, although rare, can be transmitted to the fetus and have serious consequences. Thus, eggs, meat or fish in their raw form, unpasteurized dairy products are examples of foods to avoid because of their increased risk of contamination.
Stop unnecessary food
Pleasure is important during pregnancy and obviously the well-being of the mother-to-be is very important. It is customary to hear that pregnancy should not be a period of deprivation and that is right. Except that eating for 2 does not mean eating twice as much !
Nevertheless, food satisfaction must be measured , especially if your cute sins are not recommended for your health and that of your baby. Soda, for example, is not the ideal drink because of its very high concentration of sugars and its lack of nutritional virtues because it only provides so-called empty calories.
Avoid deficiencies without falling into overload
However, keep in mind that excesses can be harmful and the consumption of food supplements must be accompanied by a health professional to ensure that it is well indicated in your case.
In case of pregnancy, it is not recommended to take supplements without medical advice because they can interact with other medications or lead to an overdose of vitamins or trace elements.
The period of pregnancy is demanding in terms of nutritional intake. Focusing on a diet rich in essential nutrients is an excellent way to promote healthy growth and development. Nevertheless, it is important to discuss it with the health professional monitoring your pregnancy to assess your particular needs and resort, if necessary, to the indication of a suitable food supplement.
1. Moving M. Eating a balanced diet before, during and after pregnancy [Internet]. Eat Move. [cited 2022 Sep 9]. Available here
2. Ionescu-Ittu R, Marelli AJ, Mackie AS, Pilote L. Prevalence of severe congenital heart disease after folic acid fortification of grain products: time trend analysis in Quebec, Canada. BMJ. 2009 May 12;338:b1673.
3. Bodnar LM, Himes KP, Venkataramanan R, Chen JY, Evans RW, Meyer JL, et al. Maternal serum folate species in early pregnancy and risk of preterm birth. Am J Clin Nutr. 2010 Oct;92(4):864‑71.
4. Bentley S, Hermes A, Phillips D, Daoud YA, Hanna S. Comparative effectiveness of a prenatal medical food to prenatal vitamins on hemoglobin levels and adverse outcomes: a retrospective analysis. Clin Ther. 2011 Feb;33(2):204‑10.
5. CT-16672_ACIDE_FOLIC_CCD_0,4mg_PIS_RI_Avis1_CT16672.pdf [Internet]. [cited 2022 Sep 9]. Available here
6. Benson CS, Shah A, Friesland MC, Friesland CJ. Iron deficiency anemia in pregnancy: A contemporary review. Obstet Med. 2021 Jun;14(2):67-76.
7. Mocking RJT, Steijn K, Roos C, Assies J, Bergink V, Ruhé HG, et al. Omega-3 Fatty Acid Supplementation for Perinatal Depression: A Meta-Analysis. J Clin Psychiatry. 2020 Sep 1;81(5):13281.